By Michael Diana
Happy Halloween ghoulfriends! Since I blew my Halloween load last year with my playlist of Halloween-ish Japanese music, I really have nothing seasonal to offer you, but I do have something I’m sure everyone has been waiting 6-8 years for! And I don’t mean a slightly different mediabug music column… Although…
Without further ado, I present to you… “Fantome”
As you may know, Utada Hikaru is back. She took a six year hiatus for “ningen katsudou” or “human activities.” Considering she’s as well-known as she is, I don’t believe any lengthy introduction is necessary, but have a quick rundown of the last 8 years: She released her last album eight years ago, released a few things between that and the start of her hiatus, went on hiatus, met a man, got married, and had a son. In April, she finally came back with a double A-side single, “Hanataba wo Kimi ni”/”Manatsu no Toori Ame,” both written for her late mother, who you may or may not know was enka singer Fuji Keiko.
Her new album “Fantome” was released September 28th, a Wednesday. Much awaited by all, it reached the top ten on iTunes in ten countries within the first day or week. Impressive. Let’s have a track-by-track breakdown of my opinions.
1. “Michi” An up-tempo song that is both a literal starting point for the album and also a metaphorical starting point for her musical activities from here on out. It feels very “Utada Hikaru,” but a little more grown up. I really love her inclusion of a harpsichord in this very mainstream pop number.
2. “Ore no Kanojo” Apparently a song she started writing half as a joke before she went on hiatus but decided to keep. A little sultry, certainly pertaining to sex (in an interview she said she’s finally been able to stop censoring herself and her lyrics in that regard, so, good 4 ha). She sings from the perspective of both a man and a woman who are dating each other, and I like how she sings differently for both characters.
3. “Hanataba wo Kimi ni” I didn’t really like it that much when I first heard it, not because I think it’s a bad song, but because it was coupled with “Manatsu no Toori Ame” which is one of my favourite songs released this year. To say it was eclipsed by its partner would be an understatement. The lyrics are poignant and obviously a song written for her mother. I do actually like it.
4. “Nijikan dake no Vacance” A duet with Shiina Ringo, who is very good friends with Hikki and also my personal lord and saviour. This has a music video featuring the two queens of pop as lovers… This song is also about sex, and (unrelated to that) it’s one of my absolute favorites from this album and also this year.
5. “Ningyo” “Mermaid.” A very gentle, relaxing song that comes as a nice break in the middle of the album. Chiefly harp and vocals; beautiful harmonies, and just overall a really beautiful, calming song.
6. “Tomodachi” An up-tempo number with lyrics about a queer person being in love with their straight friend, AKA my life ages 13-18. There was a little bit of a thing on twitter about this song, perhaps you saw. I particularly enjoy the tension in the part just before the chorus.
7. “Manatsu no Toori Ame,” Of the two singles this is the one that feels most obviously about the loss of her mother. It makes me want to die every time I hear it, in the best possible way. As mentioned before, possibly my favorite song of this year.
8. “Kouya no Ookami,” apparently named after the novel Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse (the Japanese title is “Kouya no Ookami”), this has some very sexy breathing at the beginning. Another up-tempo danceable song that works beautifully after the relative heaviness of Manatsu no Toori Ame. It’s fun and I like it a lot.
9. “Boukyaku,” a duet with some male singer whose voice doesn’t really go with the song so I’ve found myself skipping it a lot. I like the parts she sings though. A slow, sensual number.
10. “Jinsei Saikou no Hi” The most upbeat song of the album probably, very bright and up-tempo, very pop. Not my favourite, might be yours.
11. “Sakura Nagashi,” released about four years ago as the theme for the third Evangelion movie. I love this song and have loved this song. You’ve probably heard it. I don’t necessarily feel it needed to be added to this album, especially at the end where it does nothing for the pacing of the album, but nobody asked me when they were compiling the album.
Overall, a very strong comeback from one of my favorite artists. I don’t do grades for reviews, but I highly recommend buying/renting/borrowing this album and giving it a good, thorough listen to.